By Steve Molski March 17, 2005
  (Reprinted from a San Diego Union Tribune)

There is a great misconception regarding mobile home parks. Many years ago people traveled considerably, towing travel trailers, some as small as 12 feet and some as long as 35 feet and stopped in various locations that were called “trailer parks” all over the United States. You rented a space for the night or several nights or longer if you chose to do so. Many people lived in them for months or years.

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball made a movie many years ago regarding a travel trailer being towed behind a car.

My wife and I traveled all over this country and Canada towing a trailer and then with a motorhome, and stopped in many so-called “trailer parks,” now called RV Parks. These locations are for the traveling public, they are not mobile home parks!

The “mobile homes” of today are not really mobile. They are from 40 to 80 feet long and can be up to 32 feet wide or more, depending upon the space available in the mobile home park, where it is placed on special supports made of concrete or steel. They may be transported in two or even three sections and then assembled on the lot or space. The wheels are then removed.

These units, also called “modular homes,” are beautifully finished inside and out and may cost new, in today’s dollars, up to $150,000 or more.

Older, double-wide mobile homes built 20 to 30 years ago are selling for $50,000 to over $100,000 depending upon the quality and condition of the park and the amount of the space rent charged by park owners. There are family parks and senior parks.

One problem facing seniors is that many are living on very small retirement incomes, some exist on Social Security alone because many companies didn’t have retirement provisions like they do today. Most seniors living in mobile home parks today are in their late 70s to mid-90s and they cannot afford to move. Even if they could, where to? Cities have not made any land available for new parks. There are no new spaces anywhere. They are “captive” tenants!

What really compounds the problem is the absolute greed of some park owners. Most are averaging 66 percent profit on their original investment yet they still keep raising the space rents on the tiny plot of ground that the mobile home sits on, in addition to the normal CPI index raises of about 3.5 percent.

People living in Chula Vista, however, have some of the most reasonable rents in the county due to the mobile home tenants fighting for and retaining rent controls in local parks. Rents in Chula Vista typically are in the range of $325 to $525 per month in the 33 parks covered by rent controls. I have personally spoken in many parks and fought for rent controls.

The sad and frightening part of this story is that out-of-town corporations are gouging residents in other area cities. Santee and Spring Valley park residents are being forced out of their homes because MHC Corporation of Chicago has raised space rents to astronomical heights of $750 to reportedly $950 per month. Santee and Spring Valley have no rent controls.

Tenants cannot pay the exorbitant space rents. Some, who have the means, dismantle their units and tow them out. Others just abandon them. The greedy park owners love that.

People in Santee and Spring Valley have told me that there are as many as 35 mobile homes up for sale in their parks with no buyers due to the horrendous rents. As a result, homes that were worth $50,000 and up are being offered for sale in the $20,000 range with virtually no takers. Who wants to pay or can afford $850 or $950 per month in space rent?

Another unknown factor is that tenants must pay for their own water, sewer, rubbish removal and electric and gas bills, in addition to the space rent. Tenants also constantly paint and upgrade their units as any homeowner would.

Why can space rents soar so much? Lack of park rent controls! The county Board of Supervisors has shirked its duty. The county should protect senior citizens living in mobile home parks by enacting stringent laws preventing unscrupulous park owners from literally forcing people onto the streets.

I have talked to members of the board of supervisors to no avail. I have also met and spoken to State Senators Bill Morrow, R-Carlsbad, and Joe Dunn, D-Garden Grove. Even though they have drafted many laws protecting park tenants’ rights, statewide rent controls so far have been elusive.

Molski is past president of Golden State Mobile Home Owners League Chapter 1790 in Chula Vista.